LOCATION: Spofford Juvenile Center
DOCKET NO.: 82-206
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 467 US 561 (1984)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1984
Allen S. Blair - on behalf of the Petitioners
Richard B. Fields - on behalf of the Respondents
Rex E. Lee - amicus curiae
Facts of the case
Media for Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1983 in Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments first this morning in Firefighters Local Union v. Stotts, and the consolidated case.
Mr. Blair, you may proceed whenever you are ready.
Allen S. Blair:
Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
In this case the Court is confronted with a situation where Respondents settled an employment discrimination case for specified relief, waiving any further relief.
Later, because Respondents had not foreseen the possibility of events which they should have foreseen, they discovered they wanted additional relief under circumstances which make the granting of such relief inequitable and illegal.
The granting of that relief is the subject of the appeal before the Court at this time.
This matter arises out of the following background.
The case was settled in 1980 with the entry of a consent decree which provided hiring and promotional relief consistent with the complaints which were filed in the cause.
The city agreed to a long term goal of raising the percentage of blacks on the fire department in each rank to the percentage of blacks in the work force as a whole.
Byron R. White:
I take it this was a Title 7 case.
Allen S. Blair:
It was, Your Honor.
The complaint was also filed under Section 1981 and Section 1983 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The decree also contained what were interim goals for hiring and promotions.
No relief was granted with regard to the city's layoff policies or the city's seniority policies, and there was no constructive competitive seniority awarded in the decree, again consistent with the complaints, and the Respodents waived any further relief.
In May of 1981, the City of Memphis, facing a fiscal crisis, announced that there would be layoffs in every city department, including the fire department, and those layoffs were to be conducted consistent with the city's longstanding, city-wide seniority policy which was adopted with regard to layoffs in 1975.
The Respondents sought injunctive relief in the Federal District Court against the application of the senior policy insofar as it would reduce the percentage of blacks on the fire department.
The District Court, after ruling that the issue before the court was not whether the city could lay off, but the manner in which the city would lay off, issued the requested injunctive relief.
The court directed the city to come up with a plan consistent with the court's ruling.
That court's order caused three innocent, incumbent, white firefighters to be laid off who would not have been laid off had the seniority policy been applied.
It also caused seven additional senior, innocent, incumbent, white drivers to be demoted or laid off from their position or, in the parlance of the shop, bumped down.
It also caused five additional senior innocent, incumbent, white inspectors to be bumped down and nine additional senior, innocent, incumbent, white lieutenants to be bumped down.
The Court of Appeals affirmed in an opinion which addressed several matters really not at issue in the case.
While the Respodents and the Court of Appeals attempt to uphold the District Court's ruling as both an interpretation and a modification of the consent decree, we respectfully submit that it is clear the consent decree did not provide the relief requested and that the circumstances necessary to allow for the modification of a consent decree are absent herein.
William H. Rehnquist:
Mr. Blair, in your view, does it make any difference whether this is treated as an interpretation of the decree or a motion to modify it?
Allen S. Blair:
--Justice Rehnquist, in terms of the ultimate result, I don't think it makes any difference.
It is our position that it was not an interpretation, that the relief was not provided in the decree at all, and that if the Court then wants to take the next step and analyze whether modification would have been proper under these circumstances, then we respectfully submit that modification was not proper because the proper circumstances were not present in this case.
I hope that answers your question.
William J. Brennan, Jr.:
Mr. Blair, may I ask, have any of these white firefighters been reinstated?
Allen S. Blair:
Justice Brennan, they have.